Let’s Not Get Too Excited About Gay Marriage on ‘Modern Family’

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Yesterday’s historic Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by Bill Clinton in September 1996 and effectively blocking same-sex marriages from federal recognition, was a major success in the fight for marriage equality. The Supreme Court also upheld a US District Court ruling against Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California, a decision that will lead the way for marriage equality in that state. Amid the celebrations yesterday, the co-creator of Modern Family, Christopher Lloyd (note: not everyone’s favorite time-traveling mad scientist) spoke out about the possibility of the series’ gay couple, Cameron and Mitchell, getting hitched.

“As you can imagine in Cam and Mitchell’s life, they would be feeling that a door has opened that was closed to them,” Lloyd told Entertainment Weekly. “Wouldn’t it be pretty tempting to think about walking through it? We imagine a lot of gay couples today are deciding whether to get married now that it’s open to them. From our standpoint, that’s something to explore.” This comes right on the heels of the ACLU’s petition to get the couple married on the show’s upcoming fifth season. The campaign, launched online in May, was a bit ridiculous — a notion with which Lloyd agrees. “The ACLU had their heart in right place, but there was a silliness to the whole thing,” he told EW. They don’t exist, you know! They really are fiction.”

Modern Family is one of the most popular series on television, appealing to those on both ends of the political spectrum (both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney admitted to watching the show with their families), and it owes much of its success to its fairly tame and middle-of-the-road narratives and humor. The title is a bit of a misnomer — there isn’t much “modern” about the family other than the fact that it’s a bit more diverse than what you would have seen on television nearly two decades ago, when DOMA was enacted. Despite its multicultural cast and gay supporting characters, it’s quite a conservative series — much was made about Cameron and Mitchell’s single kiss in the show’s second season, and both Julie Bowen and Sofia Vergara’s characters are stay-at-home moms. It’s fitting, then, that it has come to symbolize the notion of a progressive American culture; a fairly conservative judicial branch of our government just struck down a law preventing equal rights when it comes to marriage, allowing us all to pat ourselves on the back for our liberal-mindedness. (Never mind that the court also struck down a major component of the Voting Rights Act, which will now effectively disenfranchise a great number of voters below the poverty line, particularly minorities.)

Which is why I find it difficult to take Lloyd’s comments about a possible wedding on Modern Family seriously even with the proverbial grain of salt. There’s his incredibly contradictory statements about how the writers plan to handle a wedding narrative. Lloyd told EW that the production team “didn’t want to make an overt political statement,” which is commendable, I suppose. But isn’t it a bit infuriating to know that a wedding between a couple who have a child together and have been in a loving union presumably for years (at least four on television) is a “political statement?” Something must be said for the politicization of gay characters on television and in film — a gay character is unable to avoid those connotations, and each character that falls under the LGBT umbrella has to make a point simply because he or she does not fit into the typical, heteronormative packaging.

Meanwhile, Lloyd follows up his condescending attitude to the ACLU — “They’re not real people! Just relax, folks! Get over it!” — with a comment suggesting that he and his writing team are “proud” of their fictional gay characters. “It’s a funny thing, sitting around and celebrating for your characters on a day like this,” he confessed. “We were happy for Mitch and Cam today!” It’s hard to avoid looking at the subtext: two upper-middle class, white gay men created by a group of people who don’t want to alienate anyone — anyone including their gay male audience as much as the people who don’t think the same-sex couple should be married — and those creators are proud. Proud of their fictional characters? No: they’re proud of themselves.

The point is this: I don’t care much if Cameron and Mitchell get gay-married on TV. If they do, there will be plenty of commentary about the political connotations of it, and that says more about the media’s portrayal of LGBT characters and the way mainstream audiences receive them than the people who create them. But it doesn’t seem like Christopher Lloyd has an idea of what to even do with his gay characters, other than continue to use them as tokens of our supposed changing views about equal rights. The truth is that they’re just another couple — a fictional one, at that — and they’re providing mindless entertainment rather than critical thought. Let’s save the celebrations for the real LGBT activists who fought hard and won a major victory yesterday rather than heralding the straight white men who have informed how we view ourselves and others with their narrow-minded and radically unprogressive takes on the gay experience.